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Gartner Data & Analytics Summit 2018: Key Themes

Charlie Lawhorn

By Charlie Lawhorn

On March 14, 2018

Last week, I attended my 15th Gartner Summit, and as usual, I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with peers and learn from others in the industry. I love seeing the event get larger each year, as its a clear indicator of industry growth, but with 3,800 attendees and hundreds of vendors and solution providers, it’s also easier than ever to get lost in the noise.

Many of those I spoke to found clarity in the image below, which was featured in the center of the conference hall and visible to all attendees as they traveled between sessions. Referred to by many as a “Keynote on a Page”, it does a great job of highlighting some of the core summit themes as well as showcasing the extent to which they are all interconnected.

Gartner Data & Analytics 2018

For those of you who could not attend the conference or who are still seeking a bit more clarity, I’ll share some of the key themes that stood out to me.

Data Democratization

Opening the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit this week in Grapevine, Texas, Gartner analysts Carlie J. Idoine, Kurt Schlegel and Rita Sallam told the crowd that learning to speak data is similar to learning a new language. It’s also a key factor in an organization’s readiness for digital transformation. This hit on one of the conference’s central themes: as data becomes more pervasive in businesses, communities and in our personal lives, everyone must become literate enough to interpret the world around them. And, as Andrew White noted in his presentation on linking data to outcomes, for data and analytics leaders trying to engage business stakeholders, the first step to a fruitful discussion is a common dialect.

While this may sound simple, it’s actually far from an easy task – in fact, 35% of CDOs report “poor data literacy” as one of the top challenges to building a data-driven culture. As you can see in the slide below, taken from Valerie Logan’s presentation on information as a second language, as access to data expands to diverse groups of employees with very different roles, knowledge levels and perspectives, it is more important than ever to create a shared language.

Gartner Data & Analytics 2018


Diversity of People, Analytics and Algorithms

 In addition to organizational diversity, another hot topic of this year’s summit was using diversity as a way to counteract biases, particularly when dealing with the complexity of artificial intelligence. One aspect of this involves what we typically think of as a diversity program – hiring people with diverse backgrounds, genders and cognitive styles to limit homogenous thinking within AI and data science teams.

Gartner Data & Analytics 2018Interestingly, in addition to employee diversity, many of Gartner’s analysts also mentioned the importance of using diverse data and algorithms, recommending data triangulation for better verification and swarm intelligence to reduce the inherent biases associated with using a single set of rigid algorithms. Without these diversity measures, AI will soon have the power to override reality in a variety of ways – for example, while AI is the best tool for detecting “fake news” stories, the ability of the technology to create these stories is quickly outpacing its ability to detect inaccuracies in media, creating large-scale misunderstandings and digital distrust.


Humans & Robots: Better Together

 Perhaps my favorite trend at this year’s summit were the many discussions of the ways people and robots could work together. According to Frank Buytendijk’s fascinating keynote on Wednesday evening, by 2020 robots will cost us 1.8M jobs, but increase jobs by 2.3M, so the net result is actually positive. The robots are not stealing our livelihood – they are merely restructuring the way we work.

While artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputers might be able to beat jeopardy champions, we actually want it AI work with us, rather than compete against us. Robotic technology has made tremendous strides, but we still do not expect robots to be able to run a hospital or manufacturing plant on their own anytime in the near future. Instead, the real power of automation will come from teamwork between human and machines, with humans doing the more complex work and robots taking on less interesting, more repetitive tasks. Far from the apocalyptic scenario some imagine, we are facing a transition similar to the industrial revolution. While there will likely be a period of disruption as we adjust to the new reality, in the long-term, robots will drive societal growth – not render humans obsolete.

Gartner Data & Analytics 2018

Finally, in addition to the many analyst sessions, I loved seeing our customer, Alaina Reasonover from Bloomin’ Brands, present on the importance of using a master data management (MDM) solution to drive digital transformation. Her points on MDM being an enabler of numerous corporate initiatives, including supply chain traceability, customer engagement and go-to-market agility were spot on. And she shared how important it is to solve “cross-domain MDM”, by implementing various master data types within a single platform to provide the relational construct that the business needs in order to move fast and be agile.

 All in all, a great series of sessions – loved the broader sociological conversations in addition to those of the more technology focused variety. I look forward to seeing all of you at the next North American Gartner Summit in October, or at the various upcoming events in other regions!